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Greyhound racing gone to the dogs in NE

Smith, whose parents came to the U.S. from County Cavan, invented the mechanical lure in 1912 to prevent the killing of live jackrabbits by greyhounds during the sport of coursing. His invention eventually led to dog racing as we know it on oval tracks around the world.

Greyhound racing was introduced in England in 1926. A year later, on May 24, 1927, 8,000 people showed up at Dublin's Shelbourne Park for the debut of greyhound racing in Ireland. Despite the closing of tracks around the world, dog racing remains a popular form of gambling entertainment in Ireland, and a new track is set to open next fall in Limerick.

In 2008, Massachusetts voters, by a margin of 56 to 44 percent, elected to ban the sport effective January 1, 2010. Only seven states now permit greyhound racing, down from 16 states a decade ago.

Declining support for the industry in America is attributed to the struggling economy, protests and campaigns by animal advocacy groups, and the widespread availability of casinos and alternative forms of entertainment.

In Europe, a similar trend is taking shape. Tracks have closed all over Spain, and dog racing in England suffered a major setback last year with the closing of the Coventry track.

One country that is bucking that trend, for now, is Ireland, where a new state-of-the-art stadium is being built in Limerick. Seventeen tracks across the country currently do well, despite growing protests and a troubled Irish economy.

Marion Fitzgibbon, who is a past president of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the Echo that she is dismayed that the Irish government is subsidizing the new Limerick stadium.

"We were hoping that the old stadium would be torn down, and that something else would take its place instead of another dog track," she said.

"But betting on horses and greyhounds is still very big in Ireland, and with this new stadium they're trying to appeal to a younger crowd who want gourmet meals and enclosed corporate boxes."

Fitzgibbon, who is a long-time member of Limerick Animal Welfare, said that she was very pleased with the abolition of greyhound racing in New England. Her hope is that the trend will eventually sweep her own country.

She said that the Irish governing board has taken some measures to promote greyhound adoption and enforcement of animal welfare regulations.

"But there's still a tremendous amount of cruelty and mistreatment within the industry, and there's way too much over-breeding," she said.

Fitzgibbon said that about 16,000 puppies and retired greyhounds become surplus for the industry each year, with many of them ending up maimed and abandoned.

Louise Coleman, director of Greyhound Friends in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, has placed thousands of greyhounds in homes since 1983 through her adoption shelter. She recently took in another 20 greyhounds from the recently closed Raynham Park.

As president of the American-European Greyhound Alliance, Coleman describes the current situation as a "transitional" period for greyhounds around the world, with so many tracks closing and so many dogs in need of homes.

Coleman shares the concerns of Fitzgibbon about the over-breeding of greyhounds in Ireland.

"The economy in Ireland isn't in very good shape, and I wonder how long the racing industry will survive there," she told the Echo. "It's amazing how fast racing ended in New England, and it could happen in Ireland. In that case, a lot of homes will be needed."

The Irish government cut funding to the industry by 13 percent for 2010, on the heels of a nine percent reduction last year. And in another sign that the industry may be in trouble, fewer races will be held during the quiet winter months.

"Down the road, I wonder what will happen to the breed itself," Coleman said.

"When greyhound racing as it has existed ends, who will breed the greyhounds? It will be up to us as stewards to make sure they are taken care of."

Anyone interested in greyhound adoptions can contact Coleman at www.greyhound.org.

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